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Which Is It the Dash or the Hyphen?

I was born in the south. I live in the south and will die in the south. This is only a small part of the memories I share.

The traditional cemetery.

The traditional cemetery.

I Believe That it Was

Friday of last week, I found myself not doing anything that I would write home about. This, my friends, was a rare time. So I began to do something that I needed to do: walking. Time was in my younger years, I loved to walk—especially in wooded areas. Not so much anymore, due to my health concerns. But I will share with you, what happened during my “Alone Time.”

I found myself away from my hometown of Hamilton, Ala., and drove northward to a place where my parents and only sister are resting, along with my mom’s family and lot of their friends. And if you are not accustomed to visiting a cemetery either alone or with a group, I advise you to stay away! Have you noticed how expensive a therapist is these days? Just wanted to give you something for thought.

So there I was at New Hope Church, which was founded in the 1940s as a community building where all Christian denominations could worship, not just one. I think that is pretty fair. Factually, The Lord and I got to know each other pretty well in Aug. of 1973. I know. Quite a few years ago.

Then, I Began

to roam around the cemetery because I have always had a hobby of sorts to look at the tombstones which most were made by hand and engraved by someone who was more patient than me. So with that motivation, I started checking the tombstones and finding out the different years of a person’s birth and death date—and for awhile, I was growing more and more bored and thought seriously about driving back home.

That was until I viewed this tombstone that time had all but claimed--it was green with mold and the stone was gray and not a factory-made piece for the deceased. I noticed the name and personal dates and then it hit me: many people only look at a person’s birth date and the day that they left this walk of life, but never taking time to look at the Dash, or is it a Hyphen between the two dates/ After this hit me, I felt mighty foolish.

The birth date was 1805 – 1825. The deceased name was Benjamin. He passed at a very young age, just 25. Very young for that era, but I am no history expert. I stood there while a gentle breeze swept by my face and my imagination ran unbridled as I begun to think about the life that “Benjamin” had. Sadness became the dominant emotion.

I stayed on the thoughts about “Benjamin,” until I looked at the birth date: 1805 and the Dash/Hyphen that separated his Death date: 1825, and it was not long until I couldn’t think of anything else but this guy’s Dash—so why am I referring to this punctuation mark as a Hyphen? I’m not an English expert nor do I claim to be, but I had a personal dilemma about what the sign between “Benjamin’s” birth and death date—so what is it, a Dash or a Hyphen?

I found that Dashes/Hyphens were on all of the tombstones and although the years of birth and death varied, the Dash/Hyphen was pretty universal in length—about one and a half inch. Pretty powerful tool. Any punctuation that can move time is powerful.

Still, my mind would not think of anything else but the Dash/Hyphen. Then I had the thought that I wondered if the Dash/Hyphen itself, ever considered just how powerful and important it really was? It wasn’t the cemetery that made my thoughts so strange, it was like an old-time teacher suddenly appeared before me and begun to teach me about the Dash/Hyphen.

“Benjamin,” for all I know, might have been a bandit, a musician or maybe a hobo that rode the rails. You see, on most of the tombstones, were those small sentence wishes such as: “Hope you rest in Heaven,” or “Gone, but not Forgotten.” But not one phrase found a place on “Benjamin’s” tombstone. Then I grew sad. What if . . .and I do mean, “if” this man, taken from his family, maybe living alone and not doing anything that precious that a dash was needed. Could be that this guy was so humble that the tombstone engraver had paid the engraver to ONLY put “Benjamin’s” birth and death date. That’s all.

What saddened me the most was what if “Benjamin” had left his young bride and two children to leave them while he rode by horseback in order to find a better place in which to build a better home, get a better supply of game, maybe just deliver a letter to the bride’s family telling her about how she and “Benjamin” were faring on this first-time away from home.

Frankly, I am sick of being this sad about a man named “Benjamin.” But in this one narrative, you have been subjected to many thoughts and one of those thoughts was vert scary: did you know that smaller nations of our world have went to big wars due to something as small as a Dash or Hyphen? It’s true. Do your Wikipedia. I do not care!

Then tell me how to correctly use a Dash or that intrusive Hyphen!

March 22, 2019___________________________________________



These old-fashioned tombstones tell a story all their own.

These old-fashioned tombstones tell a story all their own.

© 2019 Kenneth Avery

Comments

Ann Carr from SW England on March 26, 2019:

My view on this is that 'hyphen' is the correct term for what is commonly called a dash, so you can use either reference. A hyphen is used to separate dates as you've illustrated here or it can be used to add incidentals into a sentence, as in 'I used to have a dog - a Labrador actually - but it had to be rehomed when I moved.'

The hyphen is often used instead of brackets, or instead of commas, sometimes to indicate an extra thought. I think it's best to use hyphens as little as possible but certainly to indicate a span between dates.

Does that help?!

Ann

Elijah A Alexander Jr from Washington DC on March 25, 2019:

Ken, do you know your "I got to know each other pretty well in Aug. of 1973" is about two months before my "new conception" that happened between September and October of the same year. It took me almost 3 years to become "spiritually born" August 6, 1976 at 4:30 pm CST when I walked away from Southwestern Bell in Dallas, TX and I am still not a spiritual adult. My understanding is I will become only if/when I obtain the abilities Jesus demonstrated. That caught my attention so I wanted to share it with you.

A very interesting story but he was only 20 years old, not 25. I hope that doesn't make you even sadder.

Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on March 23, 2019:

A good puzzle in this post. It can be either one or the other. If you think one way, dash seems better. But, the hyphen can also equally be fitted from another angle of the thinking process.

I wonder at your muse and very much appreciate your pondering over such minute points.

Char Milbrett from Minnesota on March 23, 2019:

How profound! - This article really made me think. Just think. The dash made it possible for Ben to have a life. No hyphen, and he'd still be alive, 214 years young... chills... smile.